The Longboat Key Town Commission intends to deliver on its plan to have a mail-only referendum vote to determine whether voters will allow tourism use on the Longboat Key Club’s Islandside property.
At its Jan. 5 regular meeting, the commission unanimously approved the ordinance that will place the referendum question before voters in a May 12 special election.
But the commission did not specify in the ordinance that the vote will be mail-only. That’s because the commission needs the stamp of approval of Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to hold the vote exclusively by mail.
Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale told the commission it could include language specifying the vote would take place by mail at Monday night’s meeting.
Portale had previously spoken to Vice Mayor Jack Duncan, who proposed adding it to the ordinance’s language.
Duncan said that many residents, particularly those who live behind the Islandside gates, are out of town in May.
“It’s in the spirit of that we wanted to make sure everyone had a say in this, and the mail ballot was the way to do this,” he said.
At the Dec. 10 meeting, during which the commission approved the ordinance on first reading, Islandside Property Owners Coalition (IPOC) President Bob White urged the commission to the vote by mail because the special election would come after peak season.
But Commissioner Lynn Larson worried that specifying that the vote is by mail in the ordinance would lock the town in, making it impossible to hold the election in May if Detzner takes issue with the mail vote.
“If any one thing gets off the mark, we could be derailed,” Larson said.
Portale said she has no reason to believe Detzner would challenge the vote. Both the Sarasota and Manatee county supervisor of elections have expressed willingness to proceed, and the offices are following the mail ballot template that other Florida municipalities have used.
But Portale also said that specifying the vote would be mail-only in the ordinance would lock the town into the plan, which would mean that it could not proceed with the vote in the event the Secretary of State does not approve it.
“It’s a policy decision about whether you want to be more flexible in there or whether you want to more narrowly focus in,” Portale said.
The commission passed the ordinance using the same language it approved on first reading.
Key Club owner Ocean Properties Ltd. is required to obtain voter approval via referendum to place tourism units on its Islandside property. The requirement is the result of 12th Judicial Circuit Judge Lee Haworth’s 2012 ruling in favor of IPOC in its lawsuit against the town that challenged code changes the commission approved to clarify a past $400 million proposed Key Club project. That ruling required the town to hold a referendum before allowing any use other than residential within three zoning districts, including the one in which the Islandside property is located.
Approval of the referendum would convert no more than 300 allowable units from residential to tourism use, according to Longboat Key Planning, Zoning and Building Director Alaina Ray.
For an all-mail election, ballots are sent 20 days before the election, and voters have until 7 p.m. on election day to return them.
Ocean Properties has agreed to pay all costs associated with holding a special election.
Sarasota attorney John Patterson, with Shutts & Bowen LLP, wrote in a Nov. 9 letter that his client, New Hampshire-based NAECO LLC, an Ocean Properties affiliate, “wishes to redevelop a portion of its property in Islandside including residential and tourism (a hotel, a meeting center, and related facilities, including restaurants).”
Ocean Properties has not filed plans with the town for the Islandside property and will not do so until it receives approval for tourism use at Islandside.